How Far Do You Have To Take It Before It Becomes Worthwhile


Saturday, 8.57pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration – Thomas Edison

I can never walk past a second-hand bookstore without going in.

A library is the same. I feel like I’ve missed out if I have to leave without having run my fingers over a row of books.

But these days when I stop on books, especially ones about management, marketing and business I find it hard to justify picking them up.

Most books are written with a structure and formula, not entirely visible, yet still there.

For example, there is usually an anecdote, a story of someone that did something and how as a result something happened.

Then there are the lists – the lists of questions to ask yourself, the lists that are designed to be psychological measurement tools that tell you where you lie on a spectrum and the lists of characteristics and features that you should look for.

Now the writing business is a business so if you want to make any money your books need to be what people expect – a certain size, a certain type – because we don’t like things we don’t know.

The point of picking up the book is to learn something you didn’t already know. To discover thoughts that might help you with the kinds of things you want to do.

Let’s take an example – in Brian Tracy’s books you’ll often find exercises to do.

One of them is a sentence completion task. He asks you to complete sentences like:

  • I am …
  • People are …
  • Life is …
  • My biggest goal in life is …

If you were working through the book fairly quickly you might write a word or phrase right there and then.

But, then you would have missed the opportunity in the exercise.

What you should do is come up with as many completions as you can.

You might think about all the ways you could end “I am…”

Are you a

  • Writer?
  • Marketer?
  • Programmer?
  • Manager?
  • Entrepreneur?
  • Father?
  • Husband?
  • Daughter?

… and so on.

The value comes when you keep going and then when you are exhausted going some more.

Why is that?

Because the answers that come easily – the first few – are what you think you are.

They are the words and phrases that you and others have used for many years to describe such things.

They may not be who you really are right now – just because you haven’t thought about this for a while.

And I think that when something isn’t born out of exhaustion you can tell.

You can tell when an author has written a book to market.

When they have written something that hasn’t drained them – taken them to the edge of what they know – and caused them to question the foundations of their thinking.

It’s safe writing – and that’s not where you are going to get value.

It’s easy to come up with a list of things to do. But often, what is needed is not the list but the time spent in staring at the first question on the list and coming up with every response you can.

That’s sometimes called divergent thinking – expanding your thinking.

Then, you might look at that mess and pick out the ones that resonate with you.

Or go for a walk. Or to bed.

And then the next day you might come up with something entirely new – not on the list at all but something that is right and new and something you can share.

It’s insight born from exhaustion – you’ve reached the finish crawling on your hands and knees and that’s what it took to discover that new thought.

As I was reading quotes by George Polya one about the sayings of a maths professor jumped out: “In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”

That’s the thing about insight – it doesn’t come from a line on a page or a talk from someone.

It emerges when those lines and words mix with your time and effort and create something new that is right for you.

So that’s the thing about these books I see now – I look at the lists and wonder whether I have the energy to do what is needed to really use them well.

Because when you realise that you will need to keep going for a long time to make it worthwhile you also have to get much choosier about what to do in the first place.

Choosier about which race you’re going to enter – because you’re so determined to finish – come what may.


Karthik Suresh

How Can You Become Better At What You Do?


Friday, 8.59pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A tool, to paraphrase George Polya, is a trick I use twiceSanjoy Mahajan

Mahajan, in his book Street-Fighting Mathematics, writes how the best teachers say little and ask much because questions, discussions and wonder help you learn so much better.

Learning maths, however, seems relatively straightforward.

As the most purely intellectual subject there is Maths doesn’t have to deal with emotion and mess and life.

Or does it?

You could argue instead that the application of maths is fundamental to modern life and everything we do can be done better with maths.

William Shakespeare mused about the gap between thought and action – and how it was filled with uncertainty and doubt.

He was talking about Brutus’ decision to murder his friend Caesar but I’m thinking about it more in the context of using software more effectively.

For example, many years ago when I was reading about marketing I came across Neil Patel who, on his blog at Quicksprout, created long, in-depth content to help you learn how to market better online.

And he made it simple and step by step. If you followed his instructions, opened a spreadsheet, entered in lots of keywords, came up with topic ideas, created a content schedule and worked every day you could also possibly end up like him.

Which sounded great, but didn’t work for me.

Partly because I really don’t like working hard, especially at something that really should be done by a computer.

The principle was right – we need to create content because that’s how the world will find us and, perhaps more importantly, how we will find ourselves, but his method didn’t work for me.

The tool wasn’t right.

Now, the tool that I use that does work for me is perhaps ridiculously specialised.

I use a text file filled with thoughts and ideas and use a markup syntax to identify important ones and the ones that should go into the diary.

A program then extracts what’s important and creates a content calendar for me.

I get involved in the messy thinking and let the computer create the structure and framework and order.

So, this is one of the challenges of going from thought to action.

We can have our eyes opened to principles but it’s only by trying stuff out ourselves that we can really learn and figure out whether we’re happier with a hammer or a chainsaw or just getting someone else in to do the work for us.

Now really, where I wanted to go with this post was to talk about where we get these principles from in the first place.

And one good source is shareholder letters.

Most people are familiar with Warren Buffett and his letters, which are hosted on a site that is so unconcerned with fancy design that it remains a precious corner of the Internet.

Charlie Munger’s letters are worth reading as well and Jason Zweig suggests a few more worth reading and these from Sardar Biglari are worth a look as well.

Reading these letters gives you a look into how people who have made a career making decisions make decisions – how they look at and examine situations.

And, often, how they use maths to explain what has happened and what they want to make happen.

So, to really make the most of a situation it seems to me we need to use better principles and questions, to really figure out which tools are right for us to get better at what we do.


Karthik Suresh

What You Need To Do To Be Understood


Thursday 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood. – Regina Spektor

If you could look out of two windows, one dirty and one clean, which would you choose?

Communicating is hard. Even the word “communicating” is long and multi-syllabic and doesn’t really catch the essence of what we’re trying to do.

We’re trying to pour our thoughts into someone else’s mind and we spill quite a lot as we try.

Chris Anderson, the curator at TED talks, says one of the reasons they work so well is that human beings have evolved to listen to storytellers.

That person who tells you stories as you huddle around a fire, your grandmother who tells you stories as you snuggle up together, that’s what you grew up with and what your genes have learned is the way to learn.

But just as important is the fact that the storyteller and you are near each other. She can look at you and tell by how you react whether you are hearing her or not.

Writing, on the other hand, is a relatively new invention. And even if you use audio or video it’s not the same as getting feedback from wide open eyes staring at you.

So, it’s not surprising that most of what we see and read is not easy to understand.

In fact, it’s easy to misunderstand.

And it’s even easier to ignore.

Then again, it’s naive to think that you’ll get it clear the first time you try and express yourself.

Clarity is iterative. It emerges over time, like polishing a diamond.

You start with a lump and end with a sparkling gemstone.

So, how can you get better at being clear?

The first thing is to remember that using big words doesn’t mean you are having big thoughts.

Winston Churchill said shorts words are best and the old ones, when short, are best of all.

You can say a lot with small words and you will almost certainly be better understood.

Being clear is important when you want to explain what you’re thinking to someone else.

But it’s just as important that you’re clear with yourself.

It’s easy to fool yourself about what’s important, what you should focus on and what you should do next.

But the more effort you put into making it clear to yourself about what matters to you and what is the best use of your time, the more likely it is that you’ll be happy at the end of each day.

So, what should you do if you want to be understood?

Try and be clear in everything you say, write and do.

William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well said that the secret was to get rid of clutter.

Strip every sentence of every word that has no use, that is long when it could be short or passive instead of active.

And that skill comes with practice so the time to start being clear about everything is now.


Karthik Suresh

What Should You Absolutely Do Before Approaching A Prospect?


Wednesday, 10.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script. – Alfred Hitchcock

The media is everything these days, isn’t it?

Everyone’s a rock star on YouTube, minting it with podcasts and making loads of money just talking into a microphone or to a camera.

Or are they?

Harvard Business School has a page called Working Knowledge aimed at Business Leaders where you will find a short article about John H. Patterson and the National Cash Register company.

Cash registers changed modern retail and the N.C.R led that change and its salespeople were guided by a little booklet called the N.C.R primer.

This document grew as the 1800s waned, reaching 200 pages and then shrinking to a quarter of that again and it created the foundation for a selling approach based on scripts.

The point of the script was to make it easier for salespeople to carry a conversation from an approach to a close.

A hundred or so years later the script is the hidden structure behind much of what we see.

Every radio program, every TV show, every professionally produced piece of entertainment has a script behind it.

And if you’re trying to work out how to talk to someone about what you have to offer a script is something that will probably help you too.

Jay Abraman, a well known direct response marketer, has some interesting views about the kind of attitude you need to have.

First, you need to value what you have to offer.

That’s sort of the starting point – you have something of value and you need to know that, and believe in that before you try and approach anyone.

Then, when you do approach someone, you need to assume that they will respond to you. Eventually, you will talk to everyone you need to talk to.

When that happens what will you do?

Will you simply “wing it”?

When that conversation starts and the prospect approaches you are you just going to say the first thing that comes to mind?

Well, at first probably yes.

But then you’ll learn.

And what I’ve learned is that having some points that you plan to talk around helps.

If you’re going to have talking points, you could do worse, than writing out a script.

We remember speeches from great leaders but we rarely remember that those leaders rarely wrote their own speeches. The words that came out were drafted by others and they helped change futures.

If you’ve watched The Wolf of Wall Street you’ll remember Jordan Belfort and his scripts.

In his book, he’s quite blunt about it:

“…young men and women who possess the collective social graces of a herd of sex-crazed water buffalo and have an intelligence quotient in the range of Forrest Gump on three hits of acid, can be taught to sound like Wall Street wizards, as long as you write every last word down for them and then keep drilling it into their heads again and again—every day, twice a day—for a year straight.”

And if they can do it, we all can.

Movie makers and actors get it.

A good script is essential if you want to make a good movie.

Perhaps that insight is the same for sales.

Or for life.


Karthik Suresh

How To Get Out Of Your Own Way This Year


Tuesday, 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Choose your tools carefully, but not so carefully that you get uptight or spend more time at the stationery store than at your writing table. – Natalie Goldberg

Happy New Year.

The great thing about the first day of a new year is that you have a chance to change things at the same time that millions of others are planning to as well.

Clearly, not everyone is going to succeed, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that you ought to at least try.

We were watching a film the other day where a character quoted Dr Seuss, “You have a brain in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

And one of the things that is either enjoyable or panic-inducing is choosing your tools.

I can spend far too much time obsessing about whether I should be doing things electronically or on paper. Whether it’s best to use a software program or code something myself. Whether a reporter’s notebook is better than a Filofax.

That’s just the way I’m wired and, quite probably, many others as well.

That’s why so many rules and resolutions and goals don’t work.

They may have worked for someone else, worked really well, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work for you.

What you need to do is figure out what will work for you and that may be getting organised or getting stuck into the first thing you see.

Trying to get it perfect often means not getting started at all.

Which brings us back to tools.

What is going to work for you this year?

One approach that works for me is to think of having lots of small tools rather than a singe big one.

Sort of like having a toolbox filled with hammers and screwdrivers instead of carrying around a single Swiss Army knife.

If you think of this like writing a computer program – you’re creating a program to follow this year.

The chances are very slim that you know exactly what program to write if you haven’t already got one in place.

So it makes sense to start with what’s important right now rather than what might be important in five years.

The more lines of code you write the more likely it is that the program will fail to run or have bugs when you do run it.

Small programs are best. And small programs that work together are even better.

So, for example, if I decided that I was going to run every day for the next year I’d probably fail in a week or less.

But, if I tried to get my 10,000 steps every day there’s a good chance I could do that and get in the odd run.

How could you combine that with better diet, more rest and better time with your family?

What could you do to make your job more interesting and work on stuff that felt like it was helping someone?

When it comes down to it we live our lives following programs – often ones that have been written for us and downloaded into our brains by parents and society.

The first step, then, to getting control of your life is to start writing your own program.

And today is a good day to get started with that.


Karthik Suresh

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